Throughout August we're shining the spotlight on our youth work, and in-particular, some of the speakers who'll be taking part in our youth focused day at our Centenary Conference.

Andy Mortimer, Communications Manager at Co-op Foundation, tells us what he thinks the co-operative movement can do to make itself more relevant to young people

Why do you think co-operative education is important?

Education was an integral part of how the co-operative movement first began. It's enshrined in the co-operative principles, whilst the original pioneers pledged to donate a definite percentage of their profits to education.

Today, we live in a society that has a number of challenges. However, it is also a society where the value of learning about co-operation and embracing its values could bring wider societal improvements. Communities work best when working together, and young people are central to this. That’s why we are a match funder in the #iwillFund that supports the aims of the #iwill Campaign to make social action a part of life for as many young people as possible. This fund empowers young people to come together using the co-operative values to tackle issues that matter to them.

What do you think the co-operative movement can do to make itself more relevant to young people?

It starts with communication. The benefits of co-operation are there for all to see and lots of young people are already ‘co-operating’ by working together in schools, colleges and in their everyday lives. However, communicating its benefits is much harder, particularly for young people who are less engaged with their peers and communities. We see this with our #iwillFund where we find that young people are more engaged in youth social action when they have lived experience of the issue they’re tackling and can see the impact of their work.

It is also important for the co-operative movement to listen to young people. Communication is a conversation and we need to understand from young people what it is they want from the movement and what they would like to contribute. We are already doing that at the Co-op Foundation by giving young people a say in how we allocate funding and inviting young people to input into our decision making.

What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing young people today?

The Co-op Foundation has been tackling youth loneliness since Co-op research with the British Red Cross found they were the age group who were lonely the most often. We’ve now awarded £6.5m to local and community projects and expect to connect and empower 7,500 young people to beat loneliness by 2021. We’re also working with our partners to create resources that will help youth workers get better at identifying and tackling youth loneliness, and working with young people to co-design a campaign to tackle stigma. 80% of young people say a fear over other people’s reactions is a barrier to talking about loneliness. We want this to change and for young people to know they are not alone. Co-operation is key to this.

What solutions do you think co-operation can provide to these issues?

Our values - inspired by the 10 ICA values that unite millions of co-ops worldwide - guide everything we do, and the impact we have. Our funding aims to connect and empower people, and stimulate and strengthen communities.

A great example of this has been our #iwill funding for the Co-operative College’s Youth Co-operative Action project. This brought together young care leavers in Greater Manchester for a 2018 pilot to help them connect with each other  and empower them to learn about co-operation through community reporting. We’re delighted that further #iwill funding we awarded in 2019 will help the college build on this learning and expand Youth Co-operative Acton to new areas of Greater Manchester as well as Plymouth and Hartlepool.

What excites you most about speaking at our conference?

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the strengths and benefits of co-operative education and understand the future direction of the Co-operative College. It is also a chance to meet and learn from other co-operators about what the future will hold for co-operation in this country.

Andy will be speaking as part of an action packed first day at our Centenary Conference and Gala Dinner, taking place at Rochdale's iconic town hall from the 26-28 November. There are still a limited number of £100 tickets remaining, with more information available via the button below.

See more about our centenary conference